Acclaimed musician Robert Glasper’s magic-infused fingers have touched everything from jazz to hip-hop to R&B, and now he’s included TV series music on his resume by co-scoring the new shows “Bel-Air” and “Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty.” The pianist’s musicianship can’t be trapped in any one category — and that’s how he prefers it.
“It’s just us not being ashamed of all the music that we have from our ancestors. Black people have given more music to the world than anyone else. Period. Hands down. Not disputed. And it’s all popular music that everybody wants to be a part of,” said the four-time Grammy winner. “We don’t have to just be in one room in the big house or Black music. We can tour all the rooms in the house of Black music.”
The Houston native released “Black Radio III” last month, the latest installment in his acclaimed “Black Radio” series. The 13-track project leans into R&B more heavily than his previous two in the trilogy with a sprawling range of features including HER, Jennifer Hudson, Common, Esperanza Spalding, Gregory Porter and Ty Dolla $ign.
Glasper, who along with musical buddies Terrace Martin and Kamasi Washington, is up for Best Progressive R&B Album this year’s Grammys for their jazz-R&B fusion “Dinner Party: Dessert” EP, talked with The Associated Press about creating his latest album during the pandemic , and unapologetically reclaiming jazz. Answers have been edited for clarity and brevity.
AP: You made “Black Radio III” during the pandemic — “Black Radio 2” was released in 2013. What inspired you to continue the series?
GLASPER: The years went by and people kept asking, “When’s ‘Black Radio III’ (coming out?)” And I was like nah, I don’t want to do too many — I didn’t want to overdo it. And then when the pandemic hit, I felt like this was a great time to do one because people just really needed a project like that. And I knew it was going to be hard, and I knew that it would be special to do it during this particular time period.
AP: You’ve said making this album during the pandemic was not only an escape for you, but why is it an escape for the listener?
GLASPER: During the pandemic, there was so much going on: the police brutality, the George Floyd stuff, the Trump stuff — all these things and it’s coming at you from the television, from IG, Facebook, everywhere you look.
I had to make a decision: Do I talk about it? Do I not talk about it… so I felt I had an obligation to say something. That’s why I started off with the poem (with Amir Sulaiman) and then “Black Superhero” right after that. Boom, boom — the elephants in the room are addressed, and now, the rest of the album. So, you can choose: you can skip those first two songs and just listen to the rest of the album, and (the rest of the) album is about love and relationships and other things.
AP: With artists like you and Anderson .Paak, do you believe musicianship is resurfacing within hip-hop and R&B?
GLASPER: I think it’s being cool again… Anderson .Paak, he’s a musician first. Before he started singing, he was a drummer in LA He’s a music fan. Bruno Mars: music fan. Musician. A lot of guys are that in general. HER: incredible musician. She plays all the instruments and just has a love for the whole thing.
AP: Is it fair to say younger Black jazz musicians like you, Terrace Martin, Kamasi Washington and others have been reclaiming jazz and re-popularizing it?
GLASPER: Absolutely, because it’s African-American music… our ancestors are the ones who birthed this music. Blood, sweat and tears. And we, as a people, have gotten away from it and other people have taken it and been able to capitalize off of it.
We’re just living our truth, and that’s what it is. And we are jazz (musicians) — because some people say, “What they’re doing is not jazz.” Yes, it is—it literally is. It’s just jazz with a heartbeat. It’s still alive. What you like is dead. What we’re doing is alive. And that’s the difference. ___
Follow Associated Press entertainment journalist Gary Gerard Hamilton with his handle @GaryGHamilton on all social media platforms.